Outstanding Operations Leadership Program: O2L

By Published On: April 9, 2021

Operations Leadership Program (O2L) – Introduction

Extensive research on the performance of Fortune 500 companies has shown that the key to driving sustainable long-term performance is to place an equal emphasis on the performance and “health” of an organization.1 The research notes that companies that balance the two outperform their peers by three-fold.

In this context, “organizational health” refers to all the systems, processes, and cultural elements that are a part of executing the business priorities. An example from a recent engagement is expanding the S&OP process to manage inventory build-up to support new business development. This led to improved service on new business and at the same significantly reduced the risk of obsolete inventory.

Performance and health at an organizational level is easier to comprehend. But a recent study by McKinsey & Company suggests that companies can capture even more value when they focus on performance and “health” at both the organization and individual levels2. This should not come as a surprise to anyone that has been involved in performance improvement and transformation.

At an individual level, while performance is easy to understand, “health” is not so obvious. In order to explore, it is easier to see how the “health” of an individual (manager) manifests in the context of an organization. The 2×2 matrix below is an easy way to illustrate the distinction. The extent to which an individual manager has clarity around the 4 blocks will directly impact how successful an organization will be in sustaining high levels of performance.

                   Organization                                              Individual

Clarity around my role in executing company strategy My effectiveness in influencing the performance of my team
My understanding of and support for a culture that sustains performance My ability to take action in alignment with my purpose

Operations Leadership Program (O2L) Structure and Content Overview There is not only a gap in understanding each element of the matrix—and why it is critical—but also a shortage of solutions to address them.  This has prompted the development of the Outstanding Operations Leadership Program (O2L)— a program that combines coaching and training for managers in the context of a transforming organization.  The purpose is to enhance operations managers’ individual contributions to organizational health and performance, which in turn impacts the long-term success of the organization.

The program consists of three sections, each covering essential operational leadership capabilities:  1) Strategic Orientation, 2) Leading & Managing Organization Performance, and 3) Building a Performance Culture.  Integrated throughout is exploration and discovery of the leadership values that resonate with each participant. Let me get into some details of the program.

Section I – Strategic Orientation:  Outstanding Operations leaders do not merely execute.  They are also effective contributors to their organization’s strategy, able to inform decision making and translate strategic objectives into superior customer experience through products and services.  The modules in this section cover the important skills necessary for an Operations leader to

  1. Go from Strategy to Action – Break down the business strategy, set and convert medium/long-term objectives into a specific and measurable tactical plan/road map.
  2. Resource and organize for success – Develop an effective business case and the right performance management systems in alignment with the strategic road map.
  3. Engage and Energize the wider organization – Communicate and get buy-in on a compelling vision of the future, effectively managing stakeholders.

Case study – In a chemical batch processing plant, the program helped the managers develop leading indicators to improving their on-time performance and take actions pre-emptively. They also made changes to their organization to create dedicated resources for improvement initiatives which resulted in identifying and solving problems quickly.

Section II – Leading and Managing Organizational Performance: “Without today there is no tomorrow.”  Effective leadership is about delivering superior performance today while building the necessary “infrastructure” for sustaining and improving on this performance in the future. This requires a leader to set priorities and concentrate attention and resources on the most critical elements impacting performance.  The modules in this section enable a leader to

  1. Set Personal Priorities –Understand how to manage time for a deeper look at key issues: when to dive into a problem, how deep to dive, and how long to engage.
  2. Make balanced and timely decisions – Become aware of common decision-making traps and how to avoid them.
  3. Present with impact – Increase ability to communicate ideas and visions in a concise, convincing, and logical way across the various levels of an organization.

Case study – The approach helped the plant manager of a large food ingredients plant to realize that he was spending way too much time in update meetings that were non-value adding. He revamped his daily routine to focus his time on the most critical areas to improving performance and help his team deliver superior results.

Section III – Building a Performance Culture: Operations leaders typically lead multi-layered organizations with varying levels of skills and engagement. A successful leader finds the levers needed to build the mindset and practices that can optimize performance—and eliminate those that hamper success. The modules in this section coach leaders to

  1. Understand and evolve the Culture – Break down organizational culture into tangible elements as the first step towards a transformation and set the vision for the desired end state.
  2. Be a coach – A leader can multiply their impact by coaching their team. Coaching also helps build a lasting impact and legacy by generating the next line of leaders.
  3. Consciously model the right practices – A leader is watched constantly by the entire organization. So, by modeling the desired behavior, you set a positive example and encourage others to follow.

Case study: The plant manager in a formulation facility embraced the concept of servant leadership. One of the areas for improvement in the plant was Safety and he led the way by using all of his interactions to ask questions on safety-related issues. This clearly demonstrated the importance of Safety to the whole organization and created the right level of urgency to address it.

Integrated Discovery – Personal Values and Development:  The most effective leaders create alignment between the purpose and vision of their life with that of the work they are doing.  This is a very deep and introspective process that is woven throughout this program.  Among the themes we explore in helping each operations leader prepare for their future success:

  1. Balance – Recognizing what is important to you and thinking about what sort of balance you want to aim for in your life.
  2. Building On and Letting Go – Many of the skills and competencies that brought you success will not be enough to get you into the next steps in your career. This module will create awareness of the capabilities required in more senior leadership roles.

O2L is most powerful when introduced in an organization that is undergoing change or transformation. The operations leadership program can also be used as a standalone training course, but the full impact will be harder to measure.

About the program

Balaji Padmanabhan is an accomplished Operations leader. He is passionate about developing people and building organizational capabilities in the achievement of superior performance. His professional journey as a Management Consultant with McKinsey & Co. and later as an Operations leader for a Fortune 500 company has taken him to several parts of the world across Asia, Europe, and North America. This program is based on his experience and generous inputs from various Human Resource and Operations leaders. Balaji is currently based in Cincinnati, OH and can be reached at [email protected]

Author – Balaji Padmanabhan, written exclusively for Supply Chain Careers.

References –

  1. Beyond Performance 2.0 – A proven approach to leading large-scale change – Scott Keller & Bill Schaninger, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2019
  2. Inspiring individuals is the new competitive advantage – Alexander DiLeanardo, Taylor Lauricella & Bill Schaninger, McKinsey Organization blog, March 2020
  3. Six skills middle managers need – Joseph L Bower, Harvard Business Review video, Jan 2014